Guest Column

The man who got us excited about change

2018-02-18 06:09
Morgan Tsvangirai (File: AFP)

Morgan Tsvangirai (File: AFP)

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One can never forget one’s first job. For me, it was not the work experience that left an indelible impression on the world of vocation, appreciated as it was though. It was that one day at work, when all seemed ordinary, the vocational space of mundane and routine tasks was disrupted, just for a few minutes, resulting in an eternal experience.

It was a hot summer’s day and the typical Harare heat was burning us up. On the horizon was hope, the type that sees storm clouds on a clear day, to usher in rain. I was working at till four in a popular grocery store located in the affluent suburb of Chisipite. Unannounced, a burly, stout, imposing figure approached the till with a broad smile decorating those distinctive round cheeks: it was Morgan Tsvangirai himself.

We all knew who he was. A seasoned trade unionist, his face was mostly featured on the front pages of newspapers. This was the guy who was a thorn to Robert Mugabe and his regime. The man whom the working class identified with and who, at best, was seen as a messiah. Many a time we did not go to school because a stayaway had been called and its chief architect was Tsvangirai. Others reduced him to a rabble-rouser and, with this, he was unfairly positioned by state apparatus as the cause of the economic decline and political hostility in Zimbabwe.

Clad in his party T-shirt and holding a basket with some groceries, all attention in the shop was centred on Tsvangirai. Being a man of the people, he shifted all the attention back to them. He engaged in small talk, bemoaned the lack of rain and how the earth was dusty and thirsty for a drink.

When approached by two mothers with suckling infants, he expressed his desire for the Zimbabwean health system to improve. With this, a hope that no child would ever have to die due to malnutrition or any other ailment.

Noticing a youth wearing a Zimbabwe football T-shirt, Tsvangirai joked and expressed a dream that the jinx was about to be broken and that Zimbabwe would qualify for the soccer world cup. A dream deferred and yet to mature in the present.

For a group of youngsters like me wanting to get work experience that summer, I was getting life experience from a man who was not only simple, but humane. To compare the Tsvangirai state machinery had painted with the one we were seeing created a dissonance. This couldn’t be the same man we were told had brought sanctions and troubles to a country once viewed as the breadbasket of Africa.

Another falsehood often peddled about Tsvangirai was that he was the cause of the rain not falling. This was due to his growing political scope disturbing the old order and stealing traditional voters from Zanu-PF.

His parting shot to us that afternoon was sobering and arrested our attention. It challenged those stereotypes and falsehoods about him that were passed around as facts. You see, Tsvangirai was gifted with an ability to read and speak to the situation of the people, something modern leaders fail to do and can learn from.

Here was the leader of one of the most progressive opposition parties on the African continent interacting with young people. There were no bodyguards around him and he appeared to be interested in engaging with the populace. The same people who had been lied to and given promise after promise of a better Zimbabwe. His last words before he disappeared into the sea of people now waiting by the entrance of the store were: “Don’t be afraid of the idea of change. A new Zimbabwe is upon us and we need you.”

In his own unique way, Tsvangirai did just that, he made Zimbabweans excited about change. This is a hope and a dream that lives on beyond his life. Yes, he was not a perfect man and may have made some bad decisions as part of his lived experience.

For me, it is what Tsvangirai did to people whose ability to dream had been quashed. He got Zimbabweans excited about change. He was not afraid of this idea and he had the bruises to show for it.

Frail in his last days and consumed by cancer, Tsvangirai saw part of this idea unfold as the nation was gracefully limping towards change.

It is sad that Tsvangirai may not be around to experience this, but his legacy, ideologies, and simplicity carry the nation of Zimbabwe forward.

- Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi is an associate professor at the department of business management at the University of Fort Hare.

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